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How to Choose the Right Flooring for Elementary School Classrooms

Posted on Sep 26, 2017, by Mike Patrick

For younger students, creating the right classroom environment is essential: students need to feel welcome and safe, in a space that reduces the anxiety of being in a new environment - especially for the youngest students and new starters. Classroom design is key for creating a welcoming space to cultivate positive associations with school and learning for young students.

We're looking at how your choice of flooring affects the classroom environment, and what you should prioritize when selecting new flooring for elementary school classrooms.

Featured image: Gateway Elementary School, Omaha, Nebraska, USA. Design firm: RDG Planning & Design.

1) Safe

One of the top priorities for classroom flooring is safety. Slips and falls are a leading cause of injury in most public buildings, but are especially prevalent in environments with lots of young children - such as elementary schools.

Carpet should be favored over hard surface flooring from a safety perspective: the softer surface means that falls will be less severe, and are less likely to result in injury compared with falls onto hard floors. Additionally, hard flooring becomes slippery when wet, creating an unnecessary hazard within the classroom in wet weather or in the event of spills.

2) Comfortable

Considered classroom design aims to create a supportive environment for all users of the space - both students and teachers. Comfort is a crucial factor in creating a positive environment. For teachers, improving underfoot comfort is key: they will be stood up, addressing their classes, for hours and hours each day, which can lead to some serious muscle fatigue.

Cushion backed carpet tiles offer the best in underfoot comfort; Milliken's tiles use the same technology found in high-performance sports shoes, creating a comfortable and supportive surface. Open cell cushioning - the type of cushion backing used on Milliken's carpet tiles - has been shown to reduce muscle strain by 24%, offering a noticeable improvement for teachers.

3) Clean

In any classroom, spills are inevitable- so you'll want flooring that is easy to keep clean. Hard surface flooring excels at this, as spills can easily be wiped up. However, some types of carpet are just as easy to keep clean. For example, Milliken's modular carpet tiles have built-in stain repel technology, which works to prevent liquids from seeping into the carpet fibers, meaning spills can be wiped up quickly and easily.

For routine cleaning, carpet is much faster and easier to clean: vacuuming is less labor-intensive than sweeping and mopping, meaning that over an 8 hour shift it's possible to clean 21% more floor space than a comparable hard surface.

4) Quiet

Managing noise levels in the classroom is essential for creating a positive learning environment. The impact of noise levels on student outcomes is so important that the LEED certification awards points for classrooms with noise levels below 40dB. Unfortunately, in many classrooms, sound levels average 65dB (Oberdorster and Tiesler, 2005), which can impair listening and comprehension.

Your choice of flooring can help manage ambient noise levels. Hard surface flooring including laminate and vinyl composite tile have a poor acoustic profile - sound bounces off the surface and reverberates through the classroom space. Luxury vinyl tile offers the best acoustic profile of all hard surface flooring types thanks to its layered construction - but even that can't match the sound absorption qualities of carpet.

The best option for sound absorption is cushion-backed carpet. Carpet tiles with cushion backing absorb 50% more noise than hardback carpet, which in turn absorbs 3x more noise than hard flooring.

5) Attractive

The use of color in classrooms makes a significant contribution to the overall classroom environment. Most commonly, color is introduced on the walls. However, in elementary school classrooms especially, there's often lots of things on the wall - student artwork, posters, or information - which can create a visual mess and be over-stimulating for students.

Instead, your choice of flooring is a good way to bring color into the classroom, in a way that won't be too visually stimulating. Younger children tend to be more active, so you can use brighter colors in elementary classrooms compared with middle school or high school classrooms.

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Mike Patrick

Written by Mike Patrick